The Refreshing History of Recycled Art ART-icle

For as long as art has been around, artists have been finding ways to recycle and reuse materials. Stemming from the creative processes, many artists have the ability to look at an item and see how they can transform it or be willing to explore the possibilities. It also doesn’t hurt that recycled or reused materials help to keep costs down and especially in regards to present day concerns, it is also a great way to remain eco-friendly. 

Many people aren’t as aware of this hidden history of recycling in art as it tends to be thought of as a relatively new thing to do with the development of the “blue box” program and others like it. Here in Canada, Ontario was the first province to put it to work in 1981. But, in actual fact, people across history and around the world have always found ways to be creative with recycling due to cost, lack of resources, war, and more.

Roman statues during the medieval times were re-carved and reworked to make way for the images of Christian saints as Christianity grew in popularity. There is even a version of Aesop’s Fables that was printed in the 15th century using pages from a 12th century Talmud. 

One of the most common ways to recycle in art was and is for painters to paint over unliked, unfinished or unwanted paintings – reusing the canvas, paper or panels for more current or valued work. Picasso is well known for this; his work La Misereuse accroupie or The Crouching Beggar is painted on top of another artist’s work. Scientists made this discovery in 1992 with the help of X-ray Radiography. They were inspired by the cracks that began to appear where new colours began to show through; curiosity about what was underneath grew. X-ray Radiography is a non-invasive way to see underneath the layers of paint at different depths and it showed not only did he paint on top of someone else’s work but that the original composition of his work had his figure holding a piece of bread with her hand.

Today there are many many artists working with recycled materials on many different levels. Are you one of them? We’d love to see any art you’ve made with your reused materials!

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